It is the only station located on a connecting line between the Manchester-Preston Line at Bolton and the Manchester-Southport Line at Hindley near Wigan. It was opened in 1848, along with the line, by the Liverpool and Bury Railway, when the route between the two via Wigan and Bolton was completed. It subsequently became part of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway's system.
The station is located in Church Street, about ten minutes' walk from the town centre. The town of Westhoughton is also served by Daisy Hill railway station, which is around 15 minutes on foot from the centre of Westhoughton and is situated on the Manchester-Southport Line, via Atherton.
Unlike the town's other station at Daisy Hill, Westhoughton station has been unstaffed since 1974, when all the track-side and road-side buildings were demolished. This is despite the fact that Westhoughton enjoyed similar levels of patronage (see usage figures right). From 2004 to 2012 passenger usage increased by some 231%. The station's passenger usage seems set to grow further, as there has been considerable housing development on brownfield land, which was the site of a mine, within a few hundred yards of the station. Indeed, the town continues to grow, overall, as a commuter suburb.
In the late 1980s, Westhoughton very nearly had a new third station at Dobb Brow, and planning went as far as allowing the proposed station to appear on railway maps as "may open during the course of this timetable". At the last moment, however, plans were shelved. In 2000, these plans were revived, but did not come to fruition.
As of 2008, unspecified development was planned for the station as part of GMPTE's plans to impose a congestion charge on drivers entering Manchester City Centre at peak-times, and use the funds raised to upgrade public transport provision. The scheme was dropped after the proposal was substantially rejected in a December 2008 referendum.
As noted above, the station is unstaffed. There are neither toilet nor refreshment facilities, nor a pay phone since 2011. However, a card-only ticket machine and "remote travel information" have been provided recently, by means of screens on each platform.
Until 2013 there was a long-established public house, The Commercial, right next door to the station. As of 2013, the pub is closed and for sale. There is a newsagent opposite the station.
There are bus stops for services to many parts of the town, and to the town's other station: Daisy Hill.
Access to the Bolton platform is by a long steep multi-stepped ramp and to the Wigan platform via a steep unstepped ramp. Access to both platforms has not been improved for those with prams, pushchairs or wheelchairs.
There is a large free car-park with convenient, although un-signposted, access to the station.
The station is partly maintained by the "Friends of Westhoughton Station" voluntary group. The group was set up in 2012 with the aim of brightening up the station and providing floral displays.
For many years Westhoughton had an hourly service. Since the 1980s services have dramatically improved:
During the daytime from Monday to Saturday, there are two trains per hour westbound to Wigan Wallgate, with one onwards to Southport, and an hourly service to both Manchester Airport via Piccadilly, with limited stops between Bolton and Salford Crescent, and to Manchester Victoria, which stops at most local stations.
Regular through services to Liverpool via Wallgate and Kirkby once operated via Bolton/Westhoughton, which originally formed part of the Liverpool and Bury Railway and also the L&Y main line between Liverpool Exchange and Manchester, prior to the opening of the direct route through Swinton. However, since the western end of the route was electrified in 1978, Kirkby trains have either terminated at Wigan or been re-routed via Atherton. Liverpool-bound passengers thus now have to either change stations in Wigan or change twice en route, except at weekday peak times when a few trains run to/from Wigan North Western. All through trains, which continued onwards to St Helens Central and Liverpool Lime Street, ended at the 2008 winter timetable change.
On evenings and Sundays there is an hourly service to Southport and to Manchester Piccadilly and beyond. For many years there was no Sunday service.
Trains continuing to Bolton pass by, but cannot stop at, Lostock (Junction) station, as there are no platforms for the Wigan line. Passengers wishing to travel from Westhoughton to Preston and Blackpool must either change at Wigan Wallgate, usually crossing the road to Wigan North Western, a 100 yards walk, or via Bolton. Connections to London Euston can be made at Wigan, which is recommended as there is always only one change, or at Manchester Piccadilly.
Between May and December 2015, the service pattern was altered temporarily due to the work being carried out to widen Farnworth Tunnel as part of the plans to electrify the Manchester to Preston Line. With only limited capacity south of Bolton, Manchester services were reduced to an hourly frequency, and curtailed at Bolton on Monday to Fridays, whilst weekend services were replaced by buses as Bolton station was also undergoing upgrade work for electrification. A peak hour bus shuttle to and from Daisy Hill was introduced to connect with those trains that had been diverted via Walkden, whilst westbound trains ran to Kirkby once again rather than Southport. This timetable ended in December 2015, when the line through Farnworth Tunnel was reopened.